Based on a popular Japanese Manga comic-book series, ‘Ghost in the Shell’ has become its own phenomenon. Spawning several games, books and other spin-offs, it has grown into a multi-media hit. This isn’t the first cinematic outing for the franchise as a few animated movies have been seen. The first live-action version, ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is just as visually dazzling as its forebears. A feast for the eyes if not the mind, it’s a suitably spectacular tale of war and personal vengeance.
Major (Scarlett Johansson) is a human turned into a cyber-enhanced soldier. Tasked with stopping the world’s dangerous terrorists by reading and controlling their minds, she is one of the best of her kind. Whilst facing new threats, she discovers secrets of her past. Stunned at the revelations, she goes on a quest to unlock buried truths and expose heinous lies. Battling enemies from within and elsewhere, Major’s ferocity against her betrayers pushes her to emotional extremes.
Although ‘Ghost in the Shell’ has been renowned as a strikingly original property, the movie version isn’t. Whilst amazing to look at, it’s devoid of much story-telling flair. Much of this fault lies with Rupert Sanders’ direction which is workman-like and efficient. He fails to add any emotional weight to Major’s quest to discover her identity and those she meets. Whilst Johansson is never less than strong as a tortured character, Sanders and the un-compelling screenplay gives her little to work with.
The film’s best aspects are the visuals and pulsating action sequences. Both are handled very well and bring a sense of the futuristic world of the series. These stand out better than the predictable plot and poorly fleshed-out characters. It’s ironic how ‘Ghost in the Shell’ has influenced many sci-fi films and yet its own outing is somewhat ho-hum. It’s as if its central premise has been effectively mined elsewhere and now has very little else to offer.
‘Ghost in the Shell’ is disappointing on a story level but succeeds with its dazzling scenery. It perhaps should stand alone in Manga form where creativity thrives. On celluloid it doesn’t quite work with American influences again sapping any ounce of substance from its source material.
Movie Review Rating out of 10: 5
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